Annesley, Arthur (1614–86), 1st earl of Anglesey , politician, was born 10 July 1614 in Dublin, son of Francis Annesley (qv), Lord Mountnorris and Viscount Valentia, and his wife Dorothy, daughter of Sir John Philips of Picton, Pembrokeshire, Wales. He entered Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1630, graduated BA in 1634, and in the same year was admitted to Lincoln's Inn. During the 1630s he is reputed to have made a grand tour of Europe. Good affection towards the English parliament, together with his inherited Irish interests, secured his appointment as one of the parliament's commissioners for Irish affairs from 1645 to 1647. On 19 June 1647 he was named as one of the commissioners to negotiate with the marquess of Ormond (qv). To that end he travelled to Dublin and there received on behalf of the English parliament the surrender of the city. In the same year he was elected to parliament for Radnor (his family owned sizeable Welsh estates). Sympathy for the prevailing presbyterian group in parliament had secured his advancement in 1647, but by December 1648, with ‘Pride's purge’, it had been ousted, and with it Annesley.
He lived in obscurity till 1657, when he reappeared in Dublin. Earlier (1655) he had been included in the commission of the peace for Co. Wexford. This appointment probably reflected his large landholdings rather than his presence there. His legal acumen and political realism attracted Henry Cromwell (qv), who named him to the committee that was to oversee the erection of a second college in Dublin, but had nothing more substantial in his gift. The corporation of Dublin also admired his skills, and chose him as one of its two representatives in the London parliament of 1659. An effective spokesman for Irish protestant concerns, he used the notion of an ancient constitution to condemn the de facto union that had yoked Ireland to Scotland and England since 1653. Instead he sought to revive the autonomous Irish parliament. This stance was at odds with that of others in the Irish protestant community, like Roger Boyle (qv), Lord Broghill, who had benefited from the functional union. Throughout the session, in which he was conspicuous, Annesley kept Henry Cromwell, in Dublin, informed of proceedings.
His continuing value as representative in England for Irish protestant concerns was acknowledged in his employment during the summer of 1659 as agent of the settlers of Co. Cork, a commission that again implied some rivalry with the Boyles. Stationed strategically in England, he came into his own when, in February 1660, the restored ‘Rump parliament’ readmitted the members excluded in 1648. Annesley became president of the council of state. In that capacity, as well as assisting in the steps which would return Charles II as king, he coordinated English with Irish activities. He was elected to the convention parliament of 1660 for the borough of Carmarthen. On 1 June 1660 his early adhesion to the Stuart cause was rewarded with his appointment to the English privy council. On 22 November 1660 he succeeded to his father's peerages and to his office as vice-treasurer of Ireland. On 22 April 1661 he was advanced to the English earldom of Anglesey. These positions, together with the evident favour that had secured them, placed Anglesey ideally to influence the new settlement of Ireland. He cooperated with others, notably Roger Boyle, now earl of Orrery, to reduce the recompense offered to the Irish catholics.
As an author of the land settlement, he benefited and his patrimony was greatly enlarged. Anglesey, nevertheless, insisted this did not repay the £60,000 he had lost through the rebellion of the 1640s. In 1665 he was awarded a pension of £600 a year on the Irish establishment; in 1667 he received another £500, and £5,000 from forfeited lands. In 1667 he also exchanged the Irish vice-treasurership for the treasurership of the navy. This deal may have provoked Pepys to denounce Anglesey as ‘one of the greatest knaves in the world’. His standing at court dropped, exciting speculation that his conduct might be investigated. In the event he escaped any minute scrutiny, and on 22 April 1673 was made lord privy seal. One contemporary described him as ‘knowing in the law, a graceful speaker, he had a ready pen, was never tired in business and a very friendly man’ (Dublin Public Libraries, Gilbert collection, MS 207, p. 9). Throughout the 1670s he was one of the most active in the work of the English house of lords.
In an administration keen to allay suspicions of leaning towards the catholics, Anglesey, still sympathetic to and linked with the presbyterians and virulently anti-papist, valuably represented a particular outlook. The crisis over the ‘popish plot’ and its protracted political aftermath coincided with, and may even have inspired, his renewed interest in Irish history. Earlier, when in Dublin, he had rummaged among the public records of the 1640s and consulted two survivors from that era, Bishop Henry Jones (qv) and Orrery. Anglesey, alarmed that the catholic threat was reviving in both Ireland and England, in 1681 published a riposte to the recently issued Memoirs of Lord Castlehaven (qv). Anglesey's Letter from a person of honour in the countrey questioned the motives and behaviour of leading actors in the 1640s. By doing so he impugned the good faith of both Charles I and his then viceroy, Ormond, in making peace with the confederate catholics. Ormond, like Anglesey an officeholder at court and a frequent attender at the council board, was outraged by the imputation. A paper controversy followed, with auxiliaries such as Robert Southwell (qv) and Edmund Borlase (qv) enlisted to vindicate the rivals. Charles II, shaking himself free from an irksome dependence on political presbyterians and Cromwellian collaborators, sided with Ormond, and on 9 August 1682 Anglesey was dismissed. With his elder daughter, Dorothy, married to the prominent Irish catholic Lord Power (qv), later earl of Tyrone, and the younger, Elizabeth, to another catholic, Alexander MacDonnell (qv), younger brother and heir to the marquess of Antrim (qv), some doubted the genuineness of his anti-catholic fervour. He retired to his estate at Bletchingdon in Oxfordshire. Hopes that James II (qv) might restore him to favour had not been realised before he died at his London house in Drury Lane on 6 April 1686. In 1638 he had married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir James Altham. She survived till 1698. His large library, testimony to his well-developed intellectual and historical interests (he was also an FRS), was dispersed soon afterwards. His library catalogue was published as Bibliotheca Angleseiana (1686). Fragments of his projected Irish history survive (Bodl., Rawl. MS B.507; BL, Add. MS 4816), but nothing was ever printed. Thus it was through his long public career, more in England than in Ireland, that he worked assiduously but unscrupulously to entrench the Irish protestant interest.
Portraits of Annesley (after J. M. Wright) are recorded in the National Portrait Gallery, London; Emmanuel College, Cambridge; and the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Ormond & Rogers, Brit. portraiture, i, 2). His letters of the 1650s are in BL, Lansdowne MSS 821–3. Some correspondence with Orrery is at Petworth, Orrery papers, general series, 22; and with Borlase in BL, Sloane MS 1008. Letters to his son-in-law, Power, are in a private collection in Co. Waterford. Two volumes of his diary from 1667 (BL, Add. MSS 18730, 40860) relate entirely to English affairs.